Autopsy of an ordinary prison
As an anthropologist, the photographer Mathieu Pernot recorded the traces on the walls of the Prison la Santé before it was destroyed. Drawings, images and words of prisoners who form a strange poem about their living conditions in prison.
The walls speak. When it comes to those of a prison, they sometimes even form an amazing book in which the voices of the men who inhabit them mix. This is the case in Mathieu Pernot’s work at the Santé prison in Paris. The photographer, who managed to gain privileged access, collected all the material he found on the walls: drawings, images and texts that intermingle and make an exquisite corpse where we can read a little of what is the condition of an inmate. “The walls are their only spaces of expression”, testifies Mathieu Pernot, “the prison administration let them do what ever they wanted. It’s their only space of freedom in a way. ” The photographer says he fell from the clouds when he visited the prison empty of prisoners. « Behind every door I opened, there was a treasure,” he said. A treasure a bit special: the mean of expression of beings living in prison, that is to say living without freedom in a place filled with elements they did not choose and especially and above everything rubbing shoulders with the others.
“9 years and 105 days Remaining”
“Shit judge / Son of a bitch,” writes one of them. Another claim: «SHU ». 15 days of the bitch “. “Good luck mate,” says another. Gradually words accumulate and become a bizarre layer where anger and mutual help meet, hatred and tenderness. Some people count days. Thus of this prisoner who writes: “the /07/13/2012. 9 years and 105 days Remaining. Each word is the cry of a man who found a nook to say what’s stuck in his craw, what he could not tell during his trial what he cannot tell others. “I wished to record the texts to show the astonishing literary material, while keeping the authenticity, that is, to say mistakes in spelling and expression “explains Mathieu Pernot. This misery of expression is a giveaway of the condition of prisoners, who often have a low level of education and little access to society codes. It also indicates that many of them have psychiatric troubles, and says a lot of the greater suffering: The difficulty of expressing oneself with words.
On many walls, there are also images. Again, the poverty of the subjects tells a lot about the condition of the detainee. Images of beautiful cars, big moto bikes or even pornographic images, are also the prisoner’s last inch of freedom, the only window that allows you to escape mentally. As such, the drawings on the walls form vibrant testimonials. For example, one of the prisoners depicted a sun around the peephole of the door of his cell. Another writes: “Incha lah the sun rises for all the world”.
In addition to this collection of texts and images of prisoners’ walls, Mathieu Pernot also photographed the destruction of the prison. It gives us to see the slashing of the floors of the building and shows us how all this material is rendered to dust, thrown away buried. Fortunately the photographer was able to collect what constitutes a “Memory,”, a neglected memory, just saved, that sings the song of damaged souls, of silenced voices, of invisible men.
La Santé – Photographs by Mathieu Pernot
Texts: Foreword by José-Manuel Gonçalvès / Introduction by Mathieu Pernot
Editions Xavier Barral
Hardcover, 21 x 28.5 cm
75 color photographs
Selling price: 35 euros TTC
Mathieu Pernot – La Santé
October 13, 2018 – January 6, 2019
5 Rue Curial, 75019 Paris, France